Elaine Wynn — The Queen B(aller) of Las Vegas

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Elaine Wynn is the very picture of elegance. Sitting in the luxe parlor of her Beverly Hills home in an immaculate navy sheath, nary one blond lock out of place, she is the living embodiment of good taste. To the outward eye, she is a classy, well-heeled billionaire. One would never guess that she knows her Burning Mans from her Electric Daisy Carnivals, that she has a human bucket list or that she’s a die-hard fan of the NBA.

It is one particular accessory that ever-so-slightly gives Wynn away. She has forgone massive amounts of bling for one piece of jewelry she wears to the exclusion of all others: a championship ring designed solely for the 2012 Olympic Men’s Basketball Team USA.
The ring is 14-carat gold, was designed by Tiffany & Co. and features pavé diamonds. But it is what the sparkler represents that makes it among Wynn’s most prized possessions: it is the only female-sized Team USA ring in creation.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that [a Team USA ring] was made for me. It was the only ring created in a female size,” the Director of Wynn Resorts says, smartly displaying the red, blue and gold bauble.  She adds conversationally, “It was because of my relationship with USA basketball. The team trained at the hotel for both the Beijing and London Olympics. I’m very close to the head of USA basketball and his wife. It was a fun, eight-year relationship.”


But don’t think for one second that Wynn received this winning accessory simply because Team USA trained at her hotel. Beneath her polished exterior lies a die-hard basketball fan.

“Most people wouldn’t believe it, but I am a jock. I am a basketball fanatic,” she says with a smile.  “It’s one of my passions. I’m a purist, so I love the teams that play well. I just love the sport. I could do a commercial for the NBA.”

“Most people wouldn’t believe it, but I am a jock. I am a basketball fanatic,” she says with a smile.  “It’s one of my passions. I’m a purist, so I love the teams that play well. I just love the sport. I could do a commercial for the NBA.”

Wynn is one who completely immerses herself in the things she loves. She currently sits on the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Board of Governors, and made it her personal mission to attend games six and seven of the 2013 NBA finals.

Tickets weren’t hard to come by for Wynn, especially since she’s tight with some of the world’s best players.  “[2013 NBA champions] LeBron [James],  Dwyane [Wade] and Chris [Bosh] were all on the Olympic team, so I know all those guys.”

Those aren’t the only A-list friends she has, of course. Given that nearly everyone has come through Las Vegas at some point or another, Wynn has nearly fulfilled her personal “bucket list”.

“I had a bucket list of people that I wanted to meet,” she states.  “Fortunately, I’ve pretty much accommodated that with one or two exceptions, and those are people who are too old or frail for me to meet. Nelson Mandela would have been one. I’ve met royalty, but not Queen Elizabeth – I would have loved that. Unfortunately I didn’t meet the lovely and lively Prince Harry while he was in Las Vegas, but I have met people from royal families and all the presidents during my lifetime.”

This includes President Obama, who personally appointed Wynn to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Board of Trustees last August.  This new power post is just one of the 11 she holds at the moment, of which include President of the Nevada State Board of Education, Co-Chair of the Blue Ribbon Education Task Force, National Chairman of Communities in Schools; she also has a seat on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Boards of Trustees.

With her plethora of charities, commitments and leadership roles, it’s no wonder that the epithets “Queen of Las Vegas” and “power woman” are frequently applied to Wynn.

Yes, she knows it, and what’s more, she likes it.

“Why wouldn’t I like [the term ‘power woman’]? Are there women that don’t like it?” Wynn wonders, looking genuinely shocked. “I relish that title.”

No one could argue that the title isn’t well deserved. Elaine herself admits that ex-husband Steve Wynn helped to make her ascension possible through their professional and personal relationship. “I worked hard to get that title in a man’s world!” she exclaims, hastening to add, “I had to establish myself as worthy of respect. You can have someone anoint you, but you can’t remain powerful or continue to have respect if you don’t earn it.”

She’s earned it all right, in spades. Elaine has been instrumental in developing Las Vegas as an upscale fashion destination, in fixing the city’s educational system and making Sin City a place adored by the nation’s top athletes despite its lack of any sport-affiliated team.


But what does she find lacking about the city she helped to grow, the city she says is still her primary residence?  “If you talk about Las Vegas, you have to talk about it in two parts. One is the commercial tourism aspect, which is marketing to the world the things that are uniquely Las Vegas. Then there’s Las Vegas the city where we reside, live, work, raise families and have employees and staffs who are raising children. You have to be concerned about both,” she says simply before acknowledging, “Every city is deficient in some way and up until recently, we were deficient in our cultural offerings. Now we have the magnificent Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and I’d also like to see a dramatic improvement in education. We have a very unfortunate and dreadful situation in our state.”

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval appointed Wynn to the state Board of Education in January, and she is slowly but surely making inroads into what she deems “a broken educational system.”

“I’m very frustrated in Nevada,” she says. “As I’m feeling my way, I’m trying to see what should be next. There are a lot of steps that have to get taken before I feel I’ll have any impact. A lot of it is procedural, but we’re on track and they have my attention.”


At least Sin City is doing one thing right – its residents and visitors know how to party. “In terms of Las Vegas as a destination resort place, we have so much invested in our infrastructure that I’m trusting the industry has too much at stake not to be effective and to be reimagining. It’s all about a younger demographic that’s embracing the club scene. Clubs are everywhere now, but no one can do it the way we can because of the facilities, the geography, the fantasy, the support for scale. I think Las Vegas is pretty good at inventing and reinventing,” she adds.

This applies to the Wynn itself. The resort received a $99 million facelift in 2011 after five years of operation. The Wynn Villas are now being remodeled, the first set to come this summer and a second to be unveiled in September.

Thanks to Elaine, the resort has become known has an upscale fashion mecca. Chopard was the most recently opened designer boutique, though she also played a role in bringing Graff Diamonds, Manolo Blahnik, Dior, Hermes, Alexander McQueen and, her personal favorite, Oscar de la Renta, to the Wynn’s hallowed halls.

“I have to say, all my life I’ve adored Oscar de la Renta. He’s always made women beautiful. Even though it may seem a little matronly to say that, I think Oscar has always been a standby for me, and it’s almost like one-stop shopping as he has a boutique in our hotel. I get a lot of candy,” she admits unapologetically. “I have a varied portfolio of things so that I never feel that one thing is oppressive if it’s problematic. I can make headway in one thing and then go play with something that’s soulful and terrific. If I just have the energy and vitality to keep on top of it all, it’s fun for me.”

She could be referring to the Wynn & Encore Resorts in this sentiment as well. Wynn reportedly asked a federal court for permission to sell the shares she was awarded in 2010 during her second divorce to Steve Wynn, her husband of more than 40 years. But Elaine adamantly insists that she’s not trying to offload her stock any time soon. “I’m not selling my shares. I own shares. The shares are restricted right now. I’m an owner, a significant owner. It’s a great investment and I want to manage that investment the way I manage all my other investments: when they’re doing well, I want them. And if they don’t do well, I want to be able to – if I so choose – not have them.”

That’s Wynn in a nutshell. She is powerful, passionate, and multi-faceted. She is the woman who understands and even embraces the craziness of major modern-day Las Vegas events like the electronic Electric Daisy Carnival, which she deems “creative”. The mother of two and grandmother of seven is happy exactly the way she is and with exactly what she has.

“I hope that I would be considered multi-dimensional and someone fully invested in life,” she muses thoughtfully. “I feel like I’ve had a pretty full, rich life.”

Said like only the Queen of Las Vegas could.

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